Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chapter 7. The Leeward Islands



The first permanent English settlement in the Leeward Islands, we recall, was that established in St Christopher, or St Kitts, by Thomas Warner in the year 1623.  In 1625, having been knighted by King Charles, he returned to St Kitts from England as Sir Thomas, with provisions and additional settlers.  He also brought with him a commission in which the islands of St Kitts, Nevis, Barbuda, Montserrat and Antigua were taken under royal protection and given over to his custody as the King's lieutenant.  These islands, together with Anguilla and Sombrero, were later included in the Carlisle Grant of 1627, but Warner was confirmed as deputy governor of St Kitts.[1]  The Earl of Carlisle did not himself live in the West Indies.  The central government of the English Caribbean was established under his deputy at Barbados where it remained until 1671.
Thomas Cromwell's Colonial Board of forty three members implemented his policies in the West Indies during the Commonwealth period.  It and its Royal successors appointed Governors and gave them their instructions.  London expected the Governors to send detailed reports on the conditions of the islands, the state of the islands' defences, enforcement of the Navigation Acts, estimates of population, statistics of shipping, and accounts of revenue.  They were expected to report on all other matters that might affect revenue or foreign policy.
With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Board was superseded by separate Committees for Trade and for Foreign Plantations.  These two Committees worked together.  Each consisted of twenty eight members who were Privy Councillors.  They included ex-officials of the colonies, planters and merchants.  Their function was mainly advisory.  They heard evidence and made reports for the guidance of the Privy Council.  In 1675, after numerous changes in the form and title of the English governing body, a more enduring arrangement was arrived at.  The Privy Council Committee dealing with the colonies received a permanent secretary with a proper clerical staff and facilities for preserving archives.  This Committee, styled the Lords of Trade, operated for twenty years.  It laid the foundation for what was eventually to become the Colonial Office.
Shortly after the Treaty of Breda, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua "and all the other Leeward Islands" were separated from Barbados.  The description 'leeward' and 'windward' derive from the days of sailing ships.  The origin is ultimately Spanish.  They divided the islands of the West Indies into ‘las islas barlovento’ and ‘las islas sotovento’, or those to windward and those to leeward of Hispaniola, their seat of government.  The trade winds blow all year long from the east, varying only to arrive from the south-east in the summer and from the north-east during the winter months.  Cuba and Jamaica lay to the west of Hispaniola, or down-wind, while Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands lay to the east of Hispaniola, or upwind.  The Spaniards named them accordingly.  The English adopted the description.  With their seat of colonial government in Barbados, English ships entering the Caribbean, usually at Dominica, tacked to windward to arrive at Barbados.  St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada, lying between Dominica and Barbados, naturally became known to the English as the ‘Windward Islands’.  If, when the English fleet crossed the Atlantic, they turned to the north to St Kitts, they sailed with the wind and therefore to the lee.  They naturally described the islands that stretched from Dominica to the Virgin Islands as the ‘Leeward Islands’, following the style of the Spanish maps.  The Dutch also adopted the same system.  Their seat of government lay in Curacao.  That island, together with Aruba and Bonaire, lies to the lee for Dutch sailing ships entering the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.  The Dutch named the so-called ABC Islands the Dutch Leeward Islands.  By contrast, St Maarten, Saba, and St Eustatius lie to the east or windward of Curacao.  They became known to the Dutch as the Dutch or Netherlands Antilles Windward Islands.  Hence the Dutch Windward Islands lie in the middle of the English Leeward Islands.  The French first ceded Dominica to the British by the Treaty of Paris of 1763.  After a number of contests in the intervening years, it was confirmed as British by the 1783 Treaty of Versailles.  It formally joined the Leeward Caribbee Islands Government in 1833.  That relationship lasted for over one hundred years.  In 1940, for administrative convenience, it withdrew from the Leeward Islands and joined the Windward Islands administration.
King Charles II recognised that the Leeward colonists needed to be separated from Barbados and to have their own administration.  From 1670, the Leeward Islands became a separate government with their own Governor.  In that year, the King commissioned Sir Charles Wheeler[2] as the first Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of His Majesty's Leeward Caribbee Islands.[3]  Wheeler possessed much the same powers over the new colony of the Leeward Islands as those previously granted to Lord Willoughby for the whole of the Caribbean.  In addition, he could call on two companies of soldiers, to be paid out of a four and a half percent duty levied on the produce of the islands.  He held a further commission authorizing him to appoint deputy governors for each of the islands.  His instructions were to proceed to Nevis, the richest island in the colony.  There he was to fill up the Council with ‘men of good estate’, and to return to London an annual census and a copy of all the laws in force, and all that might be enacted in the future by the islands' councils, as well as complete lists of imports and exports, and detailed accounts of the King's revenue. 
In May 1671, Wheeler set sail to assume the government.  After a brief administration, he incurred the displeasure of the Council for Foreign Plantations and was recalled in December.  The main complaint against him was the dilatory and disadvantageous manner in which he reclaimed the English part of St Kitts from the French pursuant to the terms of the Treaty of Breda.  He agreed to time limits and other conditions unfavourable to the English.  There were other complaints against him that did not help his cause.  One of them with a direct connection with Anguilla is dealt with in the chapter on piracy.[4]
In 1672, the Committee for Foreign Plantations chose Colonel William Stapleton to succeed Wheeler.  Stapleton was an Irish Catholic soldier of fortune who came to the West Indies during the 1666-1667 Second Anglo-Dutch War and settled in Montserrat.  He led the troops in a failed attack on the French in St Kitts, after which he was appointed deputy governor of Montserrat.  He was a fiery and quick tempered man.  He once drew his sword on one of his deputy governors and thrust at him several times.  He wrote another man who accused him of lies and injustice, “Were I near you, I would dash your teeth and your words down your throat.”[5]  His instructions were to live in St Kitts, but he did not find conditions in that island congenial.  He married into the Russell family, the wealthiest in Nevis, and made that island his home and headquarters.  He acquired large properties in the four main islands of the Colony, and was knighted in 1679.  As Governor, he worked energetically to build up the sugar industry in the four islands.  Under his management, the Leeward Islands planters quickly recouped their wartime losses.
Several of the other Governors-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were equally colourful men.  Those of the seventeenth century were:[6]
1660-1666
Francis Lord Willoughby
1667-1668
Henry Lord Willoughby
1670–1671
Sir Charles Wheeler
1672-1685
Sir William Stapleton
1685-1689
Sir Nathaniel Johnson
1689-1698
Christopher Codrington Sr
1698
William Burt (acting)
1698-1699
Edward Fox (acting)
1699-1704
Christopher Codrington Jr
Table 1: Governors-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands during the seventeenth century.
When Stapleton died in 1685, James II shook the Leeward Island gentry by appointing an outsider, Sir Nathaniel Johnson to be Governor-in-Chief.[7]  Johnson was a home-bred civil servant.  He was sent out to enforce the King's orders and to break down the powerful colonial cliques that developed under Stapleton.  He moved his seat of power from Nevis to Antigua.  There, he soon established a large sugar estate.  He did not join the Leeward Islands planter class.  Instead, he invited the discontented small-farmers to help him overthrow the large planter class from their accustomed positions of power in the local Councils and Assemblies.  He challenged the validity of existing land titles.  He proposed to issue new patents that required the payment of a quit-rent to the King.[8]  After the Glorious Revolution of 1689 in England, he continued to support the Jacobites and as a result was forced to resign.
In 1689, General Christopher Codrington Sr was appointed in his place.  Codrington was a seasoned planter/politician of Antigua and a spirited but autocratic leader.  His government occurred at a time of much disturbance and disquiet throughout the Leeward Islands.  The Nine Years War broke out in 1689 and lasted until 1697.  Codrington was so rich that he subsidized military campaigns out of his own pocket.  He failed in his plans to conquer Guadeloupe and Martinique and to resettle the whole of St Kitts, mainly due to the jealousy and opposition of his colleagues.
When he died in 1698, he was succeeded by his son, Christopher Codrington Jr, an Oxford scholar and London socialite.  He governed during the period 1700 to 1704.  His departure from England, where he was serving in the army as a lieutenant-colonel, was delayed for two years while his salary was being discussed.  He finally arrived in September 1700.
One of the powers of the Governor-in-Chief, as we have seen, was to appoint deputy governors in each of the islands.  Anguilla as Southey wrote was not colonized under any public encouragement.  By this he means that neither the King nor the Governor-in-Chief commissioned anyone to take possession of the island of Anguilla for the English Crown.  Once the island was settled, and the colony recovered from the Indian attack of 1656, some attempt was made to govern it.  The first settlers on Anguilla having come from St Kitts, the island was at first governed, if only nominally, from that island.
In 1660, only four years after the Carib raid, Francis Lord Willoughby of Parham was Lieutenant General and Governor of the Caribbee Islands.  He appointed Colonel William Watts of St Kitts to be deputy governor of the islands of St Kitts and Anguilla.  By his Commission, Watts specifically had power to choose councillors and to convene Assemblies.[9]  He appointed no Council for Anguilla that we know of.  Watts was killed in St KItts fighting the French in 1667.  His successor was commissioned deputy governor of St Kitts, but not of Anguilla.  By that date, the settlers elected Abraham Howell to be deputy governor in Anguilla. That first experiment at appointing a Christophonian, as they were called at the time, or a Kittitian as we say today, to be lieutenant governor of Anguilla was not repeated until 1727.
Anguilla was served by only two resident deputy governors during the long period of 1650 to 1735:  Abraham Howell and George Leonard.  In a document now lost, but quoted by Dr Samuel B Jones, Howell recorded that he was elected in 1666 "by the inhabitants to be the deputy governor until some lawfully constituted authority should take the burden of office."[10]  He claimed in his 1673 patent to Ensign Thomas Romney that he was more formally appointed deputy governor by Governor Stapleton sometime in 1672.[11]  Howell’s name repeatedly crops up in the Governors' reports to the Committee for Trade and Foreign Plantations as deputy governor of Anguilla until about the year 1689, after which he appears only as a private citizen.  Howell’s commission was probably revoked by Governor Codrington in 1689, when he appointed George Leonard to be deputy governor of Anguilla in his place.
Codrington may have removed Howell’s appointment as deputy governor of Anguilla because of Howell’s stubborn and repeated efforts starting in 1683 to remove the Anguillians to the greener pastures of Crab Island when their lands in Anguilla were devastated by drought.  We shall see more of this exploit when we come to look at Anguilla and its relationship with Crab Island.[12]
Alternatively, Governor Codrington’s displeasure with Abraham Howell might be connected with the 1688 attack by the Wild Irish and the subsequent short evacuation of the entire Anguillian population to Antigua.  As we shall see in another chapter dealing with war and the Anguillian settlers, Codrington attempted to persuade the Anguillians to abandon their island and to remain permanently settled in Antigua.[13]  He claimed to be acting out of concern for the safety of the Anguillians.  They were too few to resist any invasion of the French if they remained in Anguilla.
His real plan was to increase the population of Antigua and to strengthen its defences by adding the population of Anguilla to its numbers.  The Anguillians refused to give in to this pressure.  When they felt that conditions were safe, the vast majority left Antigua and returned to live in Anguilla.  Abraham Howell was their leader.  He may have displeased Codrington by refusing to keep his people in Antigua, and paid the price for the stubbornness of the Anguillians in returning to their island.  George Leonard was more amenable to Governor Codrington.  He did not return to live in Anguilla permanently, although we see that he was on the island, respected by his people, on the occasions of the visits of the Quaker missionary Thomas Chalkley.  Leonard found conditions in Antigua more congenial than those in Anguilla, and he lived in Antigua for long periods of time working his cotton plantation there while officially the deputy governor of Anguilla.  Indeed, the title of 'deputy governor of Anguilla' appears to be his reward for complying with Codrington’s wishes.  He continued to be officially recognised as Anguilla’s deputy governor right up to his death in 1735.  Howell also continued to be described intermittently in the surviving Anguillian documents as deputy governor right up to the year 1695.  After his official removal in the year 1688, this was no more than a courtesy title extended to him by grateful Anguillians in spite of Governor Codrington’s displeasure.
Eleven years after Willoughby’s appointment of Watts to be lieutenant governor of Anguilla, Wheeler's dispatch of 1671 to the Committee for Foreign Plantations reflected a view of the necessity for government in Anguilla similar to that of Stapleton.[14]  In every island under his government, he wrote, there was a Council, which he would complete to a full complement of twelve counsellors, except Anguilla and Barbuda.
Five years later, in 1676, Stapleton reported that there was nominally a Council of twelve in each island.[15]  Only in Nevis was the population large enough to provide such a number of suitable councillors.  From this remark, it is apparent that it was not only Anguilla and Barbuda that experienced difficulty finding a full complement of counsellors.  The correspondence from the various deputy governors in other islands over the years is full of excuses for not being able to fill up the Council.  Two years later, in 1678, Stapleton reported that in Anguilla, Statia, Saba and Tortola there were no counsellors at all, only the deputy governor in Anguilla.[16]  In a dispatch of 1680, he amplified on the position in Anguilla.[17]  He listed the public officers of the islands in his colony of the Leeward Islands.  Howell, he wrote, was deputy governor, judge, and justice of the peace in Anguilla.  There were no other members of Council.  The secretary was Thomas Bushell. The provost marshal was anyone appointed by the deputy governor to carry out his orders which were very few, there being little business on the island.
Conditions in Anguilla were particularly dangerous during the seventeenth century.  John Oldmixon, in referring to the Wild Irish attack of 1688, repeated the old adage that one would think that such a poor people as this should be safe from attack, as it would not be worth anyone's while to attack them.[18]  He concluded that the Wild Irish, in attacking the Anguillians and taking away the little they possessed, must have thought that it was impossible for anyone else to be poorer than they themselves were.  This analysis we have seen set the foundation for the attitude of the British authorities to any question of government for Anguilla for the next two hundred and fifty years.
The dispatches from Governors Hart, Mathew and Stapleton quoted above describe quite well the lack of organised government in Anguilla during the seventeenth century.  With drought in the 1680s, and settlers emigrating to the Virgin Islands, and with the Nine Years' War in the 1690s, government did not improve from the conditions described.  Anguilla remained a frontier settlement until well into the next century.
The common law of England was brought into effect in the Colony of the Leeward Islands only in 1705.  This was done by the Common Law (Declaration of Application) Act which came into force on 20 June 1705, an enactment of the General Assembly of the Leeward Islands.  Each Island sent elected representatives to this General Assembly which was summoned by the Governor-in-Chief under instructions from London to pass harmonising legislation for all the Leeward Islands.  The General Assembly met for the first time in 1684 and irregularly thereafter until 1711.
Laws made by the Assemblies in other islands did not apply to Anguilla.  The Council of Anguilla, when it was eventually constituted in the next century, acted as legislature, judiciary and executive, a situation to the advantage of the senior planters and merchants and no-one else.  It was in the 1730's and 40's that deputy governor John Richardson and his successors, Arthur Hodge and John Welch, presided over the dawning of Anguilla's golden age.  This came in the second half of the eighteenth century, when a combination of improved weather, sugarcane and cotton cultivation, inter-island trade, privateering and smuggling produced sufficient wealth to support a Council and courts.  With a Council and courts came customs duties and bailiffs that were absent during the previous century.  However, neither during the seventeenth nor the eighteenth century did Anguilla have an Assembly to enact local laws.
Between 1667 and 1727, the deputy governor of Anguilla reported directly to the Governor in Antigua.  In 1727, the deputy governors of Anguilla and the Virgin Islands were both placed by Governor Hart under the supervision of Francis Phips.  Phips was a public-spirited planter in St Christopher or St Kitts, as it was called by then.[19]  With the resignation of Phips from the St Kitts Council, the experiment came to an end.  It was not to be revived until the collapse of the Anguilla Council in 1825 and the replacement of direct rule from St Kitts.
[Continued in Part 2]


[1]       FH Watkins, Handbook of the Leeward Islands (1924) p.67.
[2]       Spelled “Wheler” in the correspondence.
[3]       CO.1/26, No 8, folio 42: Sir Charles Wheler’s Commission.
[4]       Chapter 8: The Buccaneers and Anguilla.
[5]       Calendars of State Papers, 1681-1685, p.581.
[6]       For a list of the Governors-in-Chief of the eighteenth century, see Chapter 16: Government Comes to Anguilla.
[7]       I am indebted for much of the general background on the history of the Leeward Islands to the historiography of Professor Richard Dunn in his Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of a Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (1972).
[8]       A ‘quit-rent’ was a small rent paid by a freeholder or copyholder in lieu of services which might be required of them.
[9]       Calendars of State Papers, 1660, para 490: Watts Commission from Lord Willoughby dated 27 October 1660.
[10]     Samuel B Jones, Annals of Anguilla (1936).
[11]     Chapter 5: The Second Generation.
[12]     Chapter 9: The Lure of Crab.
[13]     Chapter 6: War and the Settlers.
[14]     CO 1/27: Wheeler to the Committee.
[15]     CO 153/2, folio 139: Stapleton to the Committee on 22 November 1676: Answers to the Enquiries of the Committee.
[16]     CO 153/2, folio 265: Stapleton to the Committee on 24 January 1678: State of the Leeward Islands.
[17]     CO.1/45, No 33: Stapleton to the Committee on 18 May 1680.  See Chapter 4: The First Generation.
[18]     See Chapter 6.
[19]     It is sometimes said that St Christopher became known as St Kitts after the Christopher Codringtons, father and son, who were apparently both familiarly referred to as ‘Kit’.  However, as we see from the letter from Francis Sampson to his brother John, the nick-name had already taken as early as 1666.  Both names are correct, and then as now are used interchangeably to describe the island.